Jim

Thus Spake Jim Murray – 2018: A Whisky Bible

Posted by: Ted

Zarathustra2

Daaah…. daaah…. daaah………. DA DAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! bom bom bom bom bom bom…

Sunlight oozed slowly across the darkling plain and up the face of the towering monolith. It’s surface was like the purest of amber and there was a strange feeling of energy surrounding it. A group of primitive whisky writers, bloggers and critics lounged and tousled nearby, random, semi-intelligible cries like ‘bold coastal flavours’, ‘herbal undertones’ and ‘it has notes of sour plums’ punctuating the air.

One of the bloggers suddenly whipped his head up and stared intently at the monolith, before hesitantly creeping towards it. His companions quietened, the fibres of their tweed vests glinting in the sunlight as they watched their brother’s progress. The blogger halted nervously at the base of the monolith and carefully stretched up his hand toward the surface.

As soon as the blogger’s fingers brushed the unnaturally smooth amber surface, images poured into his mind, burning like distilled fire. Strange bulbous glassware… odd metal cylinders plunging into barrels to feed off their liquid hearts… infinitely high stacks of experimental casks with cryptic names like ‘gaja barolo’, ‘tokay’ and ‘sauternes’… fractal distillers endlessly chanting ‘Phenol quercus lacotone alba aldehyde robur’… towering columns of smoke that reeked of the sea… a tumultuous barrage other images too hard to describe, let alone understand.

Finally the terrible visage of a golden-eyed god appeared, his corona of white hair crowned by a panama hat. The god spoke, terrible, thunderous tones lancing into the mind of the blogger:

“Behold, these three releases shall be the best whiskies on earth in 2018:

1.Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon

Winner2. Redbreast 21 Year Old

Second winner3. Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Third winner

This is the decree of Jim Murray, heed it and remember.”

Suddenly the raging tempest of images assaulting the blogger stopped, like the fabric of the universe had been sundered by a knife. As he withdrew his hand he felt a sudden feeling of purpose, a clarity of mind that pierced to the very centre of his spirit. He swung around and stalked with intent towards the biggest critic in the group, who was pontificating forcefully that ‘while other styles have certain merits, it is the sheer complexity derived from its long and rich history that elevates Scotch above all other forms.’

Daaah…. daaah…. daaahhh…. Ba BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!! bom bom bom bom bom bom…

With a wild cry of ‘Bourbon is the new king!’, the blogger struck the critic a terrible blow and smote him to the ground, while the other wordsmiths hammered on their keyboards, hooting and gibbering in excitement. The blogger stood panting for a moment, then turned and strode away from the great amber monolith, his companions trailing behind their new leader, a sudden sweet, rich, punchy sensation pervading their minds.

Finally, the only thing left in the dying light was the monolith, the mysterious energy surrounding it holding a sensation of waiting, of expectation and anticipation, like somehow it knew that one day this would all happen again…

Fin

(To find out Jim Murray’s other decrees for his 2018 Whisky Bible, head over to The Whisky Exchange blog)

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Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Canada takes the Crown Royal of Whisky: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016

Posted by: Ted

After a year of watching the earth from his secret moon base, built from the old Port Ellen spirit stills (and featuring a mash tun jacuzzi), the golden-eyed whisky-reviewing alien that is Jim Murray has returned to earth, and it seems that he comes bearing a message for Scotland. He must think that they’re a pretty rough, uncouth bunch, as not only has he snubbed them in his top five for a second year running, but he has decreed that the best whisky in the world comes from a country universally famed for its politeness… eh?

Golden eyed whisky alien

That’s right, Canadians rejoice, because according to His Murrayship you are now owners of the best whiskey on the face of the planet. The Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye scored a cool 97.5/100 on the Murrayometer, the man himself noting that “Rye, that most eloquent of grains… reaches new heights of beauty and complexity.” The win marks the first time that Canada has taken out the top Whisky Bible gong, and already the internet is aflutter about the merits of the winning horse from Crown Royal, owned by global spirits giant Diageo. Even Jim thinks that the choice will raise eyebrows, but hopes that people will be ‘blown away’ by its ‘uncompromising and unique beauty’ when they taste it. Seeing that a nod from Jim tends to cause any available bottles to evaporate immediately afterwards, sampling the Northern Harvest may be no easy feat.

Canada takes the Crown

Once again North America was well represented in the top five, with Maryland distillery Pikesville taking second place with its Straight Rye, while Kentuckian distillery Buffalo Trace returned for a second year running, moseying into fourth place with the 2014 bourbon from its premium William Larue Weller line. Potentially causing yet more angst in Scotland was the bottle standing in third place on the podium, with Irish distillery Midleton claiming success with its cask strength Dair Ghaelach expression. Like Canada, this is the first time an Irish whiskey has found itself swinging from the top of the Whisky Bible tree and shows that modern palates (or at the very least, Jim’s) continue to extend beyond the traditional stronghold of Scotch.

Last year the Big M gave the top spot to Japan’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, creating ripples in Scotland’s zen, and rocketing the distillery into the limelight. Well, the sun has risen on Japan once again, with Yamazaki’s Mizunara Cask sliding into fifth place. If you want a bottle though, you’ll need to travel to Japan as it is only available on the local market. Whether Whisky Bible hype changes this situation is yet to be seen. Mizunara, the native Japanese oak, has been rising in popularity the last few years, and the Murray effect should help cement its place as a legitimate casking choice.

While absent from the top five, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Scotland, with the (most definitely expensive) Glenfarclas Family Casks 1957 #2110 not only awarded Scotch Whisky of the Year, but also claiming the overall Single Cask Whisky of the Year. Other notables in the Scotch category include Single Malt of the Year Glen Grant 10yo and Scotch Blend of the Year The Last Drop 50yo (seriously, again, who has that kind of money!?). European Whisky of the Year (Multiple) returned to the English Whisky Co. for their Chapter 16 Peated Sherry Cask, while the (Single) category was awarded to the delightfully named Kornog Taouarc’h Chweec’hved 14BC from the ancient Celtic French region of Breton.

Closer to home (at least for me that is) Australia took the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year crown back from the Kiwis, with Tasmania’s very own Heartwood distillery coming through strong with its Good Convict bottling. Strong is certainly the right word when it comes to Heartwood, with mad genius Tim Duckett mixing up an astounding array of cask strength creations in his laboratory. As Heartwood is an independent bottler, all of its releases are limited; once an expression has sold out it is consigned to the pages of history and fond memory. So if you happen to own a bottle of the 71.3% Good Convict, you are one of a lucky few.

The Convict was definitely Good

Of course, you are always welcome to take any Murrayitic pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but for a roundup of the who’s who of whisk(e)y in a given year the Whisky Bible is hard to beat.

A full run down of the winners can be found here.

Nant Homestead Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Homestead Reserve

It’s no secret that Jim Murray, whisky writing’s answer to Simon Cowell, is a fan of Tasmania’s Nant Distillery. And that’s fine, he’s allowed to have favourite distilleries. Although, rarely does he offer to fly to the home country of said distillery to create an all-new product for them. But in the case of the Nant Homestead Reserve, a marriage of Nant’s bourbon, sherry and port matured whisky, that’s exactly what he has done.

Nant are makers of some fantastic drams, and Jim has praised their power, their full-bodied flavour and their uniquely memorable Tasmanian nature. But for some reason when offered the chance to create his own, he has failed to include any of the above characteristics. Instead he has created a whisky that proves it is possible to be too smooth.

The nose is familiar if you have ever had a Nant whisky before. It is fruity and candied with touches of vanilla. But it is understated and almost feels like it is missing an element. The palate displays subtle notes of orange, toffee and leafy vegetation. The finish dies away rapidly as if instead of drinking whisky you were simply sipping a glass of water. All together the final impression is that of dissatisfaction.

Of course, this is only one whisky drinker’s opinion. This may be an elegant easy drinking whisky to some. It may also be a viable starting point for non-whisky drinkers. Though for me it lacks the magic of some of Nant’s other releases such as the port, sherry and bourbon matured bottlings. They are all, without a doubt, more complex, interesting and flavoursome than the Homestead Reserve. This whisky is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

★★

Jim Murray rates Tasmanian whiskies as liquid gold

Posted by: Nick

Not the whisky bible whisky waffle

An early dust-cover for the 2015 Whisky Bible which did not make the final printing

Here at Whisky Waffle we don’t take our rating system too seriously. We’re certainly a far cry from individual nose-ratings, and can barely count to 100, let alone score out of it! We are far more, in a word: wishy-washy (yes, ok, that was two words, but like I said, we have problems counting).

For some people however, wishy-washy doesn’t cut it, and a nice tangible score out of 100 is the way to go. One such man is Jim Murray, who did not quite squeeze into the quartet of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and decided to write his own bible. About whisky. Appropriately titled: The Whisky Bible.

This man has tasted and rated over four thousand whiskies for his latest edition, and apart from having the best day job in the world, he also has a half decent palate. This, apparently, is enough justification for distilleries to go gaga when he attributes high scores to their products.

Whiskies to which he deigns an award of 94 points or higher are granted the impressive-sounding moniker: ‘liquid gold’, not to be confused with Macallan Gold, which is another matter entirely (and one not nearly as impressive-sounding, despite what the PR guys at Macallan try and tell you).

There are two points, however, that Jim Murray and I see eye to eye on. The first one is our love for trade-mark headwear which, while a fascinating discussion, is not relevant to the current article. Our second is our love for whisky made in Tasmania. While I may have proved time and time again that I am slightly biased on the subject, Jim’s love is purely objective (with the possible exception of Nant).

Trademark headwear whisky waffle

I am rarely seen without my trademark top-hat. DISCLAIMER: this statement may or may not be true

The Tasmanian distilleries who have produced liquid gold bottles for the 12th edition of the Whisky Bible are Lark and Sullivans Cove, and I offer them both my sincerest congratulations. Sullivans Cove received a score of 95.5 points for its American Oak bourbon cask release, until now the neglected younger brother of the coveted French Oak port cask. Lark received 94 points for its cask strength release, which makes me exceptionally happy, partly because it is a wonderfully deserving distillery and partly because I happen to own a bottle.

My precious whisky waffle

My precious…

Elsewhere in Australia the wonderfully obscure Limeburners distillery from Albany, Western Australia has also been awarded liquid gold status, due to both being a fantastic drop and to being from a region of the world where it can get hot enough to melt actual gold.

These bottles join a number of Australian products to receive this honour. In Tasmanian alone Overeem, Heartwood and Nant, as well as other Sullivans Cove and Lark releases have been given the tip of the panama hat. And if this isn’t enough justification to my Scottish friend that this country makes a damn good dram then I don’t know what is.

In the end, however, it’s just one man’s opinion. And this whisky blog is simply another. The most important critic of a whisky’s quality is you. If you try a drop at the right time in the right place with the right people, then that is all the justification you need. Like I said, wishy-washy. But they do call it liquid gold after all…